How to Find Your Horse's Pedigree

single horse grazing in a field

K. Blocksdorf

There are many reasons why a horse's breed registration papers can be lost. For instance, if the horse has been bought and sold several times, a previous owner might neglect to pass along the papers. Or sometimes paperwork simply goes astray. Also, unscrupulous sellers might pair the papers with a similar horse to increase its value. While this is inconvenient for the new owner of the "unpapered" horse, it is also illegal. Still, even if your horse is missing registration papers, it is sometimes possible to find information on the horse's pedigree.

Ways to Identify Your Horse

If you have a horse that is tattooed or branded, you have a head start in the horse pedigree recovery process. Thoroughbreds often have a lip tattoo. Although the tattoos can be difficult to read as the horse ages, they do provide a means of identification.

Rather than try to hold back the horse's upper lip and read the tattoo, many people find it easier to hold the lip and take a picture of the tattoo. That way, you can take your time reading the characters without having to worry about a squirming horse. Plus, you can enhance the contrast and sharpness of the photo to make the tattoo easier to decipher. Similarly, shaving down neck tattoos can help to increase their visibility.

Instead of a specific set of characters, some horses might be branded with a farm tattoo. This can lead you to the horse's breeder and give clues on its lineage. When contacting a breeder, realize that sometimes very large farms don't keep detailed records. However, many do. And you might find that a clear description and photo will help a breeder remember your horse.

Occasionally, a horse will have a microchip. These require a special scanner to locate and read. A veterinarian or animal shelter often can assist with this. With the microchip information, you might be able to find the horse's previous owner or breeder.

Furthermore, in some cases, DNA testing can help identify the horse's sire and dam. This can be key information in recovering the horse's pedigree.

Quarter horse feeding in a field of tall grass
Darrell Gulin/Getty Images

Researching Horse Pedigrees

If you suspect your horse was previously registered, a breed association might be able to help you identify the horse and even reissue registration papers. Knowing the horse's registered name (and ideally its breeder) is a great help. You'll also need clear photos and a description to give the breed association, so it can try to match the information to a horse in its database. Some breed associations charge for this service.

You also might be able to search the name of your horse yourself on the breed registry site. If information on it exists, you'll often find a photo, names of previous owners, the horse's pedigree, and show records.

If you already have registration papers but want to find out more about your horse's pedigree, there are online databases that can help. The website allbreedpedigree.com includes several breeds, such as the American quarter horse, thoroughbred, Arabian, and paint. Sometimes, you might encounter several horses with the same name. In that case, check the date of birth to be sure you've found the right records.

Tracing the History of Former Racehorses

If you have a former racehorse and wish to learn about its race records, you can check for information on Brisnet or Equibase. Some of these services are free while others require a small fee.

If you don't find your former racehorse's pedigree online, it is possible to contact the breeders' associations. In the United States, try reaching out to The Jockey Club. In Canada, the Canadian Thoroughbred Society might be able to help you out.

Did you find a lot of champions in your horse's pedigree? Remember there is much more to a good horse than an impressive pedigree. In fact, many former racehorses are notoriously difficult to handle and don't make the best pleasure riding horses. Both nature and nurture contribute to a horse's overall demeanor.